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Vaccination Bill Clears Senate Education Committee, But Still Faces Stiff Opposition

April 23, 2015

A bill co-authored by California State Senator and pediatrician Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), which would require more California children to be vaccinated before they can attend public schools, cleared the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday morning by a 7-2 vote.

But the bill’s opponents – a coalition that includes vaccine skeptics, a number of religious groups, and small-government advocates who dislike the idea of state government issuing mandates on medical matters – indicated that they will continue to fight the bill.

The proposed legislation (SB 277) was introduced in the wake of California’s February measles outbreak by Sen. Pan and Sen Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica). As originally drafted, the bill would eliminate vaccine exemptions based on a parent’s “personal belief,” and allow exemptions only for students with medical conditions that would make vaccination unsafe. The bill is supported by the California Medical Association, the California School Boards Association, the California State PTA, and other groups.

The California Senate’s Health Committee approved the bill on a 6-2 vote on April 8. But when the bill advanced to the Senate Education Committee on April 15, it was met with stormy, noisy protests from hundreds of parents and other opponents who rallied at the state capitol. When members of the Education Committee expressed reluctance to approve the bill in its initial form, Pan agreed to make revisions. Those revisions were announced on April 21, and Pan said his amendments to the bill would allow unvaccinated children to be home-schooled through the public school system’s independent study program – or in multi-family groups. Students could also enroll in an independent study program run by a public school district.

“I believe that with those amendments, that will satisfy many of the concerns of my colleagues,” Pan said at a Tuesday morning news conference in Sacramento. “And I’m optimistic that we’re going to get the bill out tomorrow.”

Pan apparently did not accept an amendment proposed by some committee members that would have allowed vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

Pan’s prediction that the Senate Education Committee would approve the bill proved accurate – but several opponents of the bill made it clear that they were not satisfied by Pan’s changes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) voted against the bill in the Senate Education Committee, saying “I just still have a concern it will not go far enough to help a two-income family who can’t home-school their child or a single, working parent.”

Sen. Carol Liu (D-La CaƱada/Flintridge) voted for the bill, though she told the Los Angeles Times that the bill “still has a long way to go” to address some of her concerns.

The New York Times – which doesn’t often comment on proposed legislation in California – took the unusual step of running an editorial headlined “Vaccine Phobia in California on April 22, in recognition of the issue’s national implications. The editorial described SB 277 as “a sensible bill” and added “the legislators must keep their eye on the most important goal: ensuring that virtually all students have been vaccinated. Universal vaccination would reduce the risk of spreading diseases to students who can’t be vaccinated because of medical conditions, such as impaired immune systems. If the bill clears the Education Committee, it must then pass through two other committees and go on to a vote on the Senate floor before being sent to the Assembly, which will hold its own round of votes. Optimists hope the bill could be ready for the Governor’s signature by September.”

Sources:  Office of Sen. Richard Pan, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, EdBrief staff.